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The Astros are currently in last place in a weak NL Central and are tied with the Arizona Dimaondbacks for the worst record in the National League. It seems like the obvious play for this terrible Houston team would be to sell, but one never knows with the combination of GM Ed Wade and owner Drayton McLane, who have been known to buy in hopeless situations. At 10 games back of both St. Louis and Cincinnati, this year’s situation would certainly qualify as hopeless.
Buy Or Sell?
As mentioned above, “sell” is the obvious choice for Wade and McLane. The real question is if they can find a buyer willing to give decent value for the players that they can sell. Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman have already requested trades. Other players that could help teams down the stretch include Michael Bourn, Brett Myers, and Wandy Rodriguz. It’s not likely that either Bourn nor Rodriguez will be traded as they are still under team control for two and one more years respectively, but Myers is only on a one year deal and has performed excellently so far both in terms of results and peripherals (3.01 ERA, 3.50 FIP, 3.81 xFIP).
Oswalt and Berkman, as the best players involved, are naturally the most interesting to watch in this situation. Oswalt is due $18 million between his 2011 salary and 2012 buyout, which severely reduces his value. The Astros would likely have to eat a good deal of salary in order to land a decent prospect. Berkman is in the last year of his contract, but there is a club option for $15 million and, given his no-trade clause, may request that this option is picked up before approving a trade, leaving the Astros in the same situation that they have with Oswalt.
Regardless, the Astros need to get some value out of those contracts, and that won’t happen with the two players languishing on a roster that only includes five position players and ten pitchers above replacement level. Myers and Oswalt have both been excellent, as has Felipe Paulino, even though he hasn’t been getting support from his team. Rodriguez has been good but his 4.00 FIP isn’t as good as he’s been in recent years. Bud Norris is a solid youngster who rounds out the rotation and figures to be part of the Astros rebuilding process.
Out of the bullpen, Matt Lindstrom has pitched well. After that, Brandon Lyon has not been nearly good enough to justify his three year, $15 million contract, and the only other above replacement relievers have been Wilton Lopez and Gustavo Chacin.
The Astros could use upgrades at every position. Humberto Quintero has been serviceable at catcher but is already 30 years old. Another 30 year old, Jeff Keppinger isn’t much of a glove at 2B and is projected to be below average at the plate for the rest of the season by ZiPS. Tommy Manzella might be the worst player in professional baseball at SS, and Pedro Feliz seems to have completely lost his bat at 3B.
On The Farm
The Astros farm system was ranked 27th by Beyond the Box Score’s system of aggregating rankings from around baseball. Their top three prospects are catcher Jason Castro, shortstop Jiovanni Mier, and pitcher Jorday Lyles. A team can never have too many of either of those three positions, so the Astros can use any player at any level at any position. Their biggest need would be at the higher minors, though, as they did manage to pickup five picks in the first three rounds in this year’s draft.
Drayton McLane has always been willing to buy, so maybe we shouldn’t read too much into the fact that the Astros opening day payroll was $10 million dollars less than it was in 2009. Still, shedding payroll should be a priority for the Astros, and the easiest way to do that would be to get out from under the contracts of Berkman and Oswalt.
Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.